Nobody could have prepared me for this. Even when a cousin of my husband’s, upon finding out I was pregnant with my fourth child, commented to my husband and me, “You know, you can have sex without getting pregnant.” But even if Mr. Snarky would have tried to lay it all out for me, I would have been unable to comprehend the trajectory of my life with four kids spanning a decade. It would not have made sense to me, nor would it fit neatly in my brain. Because having four children with a large age span is not tidy. It is messy and complicated, exciting and surreal. It forces my brain to expand like a rubber band threatening to snap at any moment.
Anyone who has been following my writing/life over the past several years knows that I have written a lot about my first born and the difficulties I had in letting her go, especially when she left for college. Well, thankfully after nearly putting Kleenex out of business, I found my groove, and two years later sent her younger brother off to college as well (nope, not easier the second time). Fast forward another lighting-fast two years, and she graduated from college and embarked upon her new "grown up" life, which in her case involved moving to the Big Apple. More Kleenex, please?
Since Sophie and I are both writers, we oftentimes mark our own big life transitions with a piece of writing in the form of a journal entry, a blog post or an article written with the intention of submitting it for publication.
And here’s where the mother-daughter-writer-connection thing gets interesting.
On the evening of July 10th, Sophie sends me an email telling me that she has written a piece about her moving to New York and she wants to submit it for publication. I stare at the email in disbelief as just that morning, I had submitted a post to Grown and Flown about…you guessed it…Sophie leaving for New York.
Okay, now I understand that it is not that ironic that we both chose to write about the the fact that she moved to New York after graduation. But if you have a chance to read both pieces, you will see that even though her decision to move to New York and her actual move was a process that happened over many months, in both of our posts, we each chose to zero in on the the exact same moment within this process.
I won’t give anymore away but as my husband explains: you will be looking at both sides of the coin.
Click here to read my piece on Sophie flying the coop.
Click here to read Sophie's piece on flying the coop.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts!
Let’s check over here,” I motion to my 12-year-old daughter to follow me to the cosmetics isle. This is our fourth trip to Target in the last few weeks for the sole purpose of buying supplies for the new obsession gripping tweens all over the country—SLIME.
The current desired ingredient is a new one. “Baby powder is supposed to make the slime softer and less sticky,” my daughter, now an expert slime chemist, explains to me. She also assures me that she will be able to pay back the money we’ve spent on supplies with the money she collects from her fellow classmates (most of whom are also in the slime manufacturing and sales business) in exchange for her magnificently mastered mixture of shaving cream, glue, contact solution, and now baby powder.
Shampoo, body wash, lotions…I am not seeing the baby powder anywhere. My agitation rises as I curse myself for being sweet talked into this inconvenient trek to Target on a night when my son needs help with an assignment, my husband is at a work dinner, and I have to teach my teen writing class in an hour. I calm myself with the notion that at least this obsession, unlike other bygones like silly bands, does involve a creative process when mixing, measuring, and experimenting to form the germ-collecting balls of goo.
“Hi!” I find myself almost yelling to the young, exhausted-looking woman standing behind the nearby pharmacy counter. “Can you please tell me where the baby powder is?”
Before I even let the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-lady look on her face throw me into a shame pit, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her briskly out of the pharmacy area murmuring, “Oh my gosh, never mind.”
We both erupted in giggles as we headed over to the “baby” isle for the elusive “baby” powder.
My internal Target compass paused as we pass the girls section, our usual go-to area. “The baby section is over by electronics, I am pretty sure,” I muttered, still smiling at the irony.
And then it hit me.
The baby aisle had completely fallen off of my radar.
I could not recall the last time I had even gone near the avenue of pacifiers, diaper genies, bottles and diapers. As I walked toward baby land with my baby, disguised as a 12-year-old, I realized that I no longer knew the layout of this section that for decades I was able to navigate with my eyes closed. I didn’t even recognize some of the items on the shelf.
How could this be? This was MY territory! And now, I had forgotten it even existed!
“Mom, here, I found it,” my daughter’s sweet voice lulled me out of my trance. “Let’s go! You’ve got to get to your class,” she reminded me.
I stood motionless, my eyes scanning the baby items stacked neatly on the shelves. “I miss this, “ I said. She tracked my gaze to the shelf full of diapers.
“You miss changing my diapers,” she said coyly with a playful smile on her face.
“No I miss my babies,” I told her with sincerity, ignoring her sarcasm. I miss holding you in my arms, your baby smell, and hugging you and kissing you as much as I want to.”
“Well, I don’t,” she quipped again, her smile growing even bigger. “Ugh!” I groaned and grabbed my belly in reaction to her verbal gut-punch.
Walking to the check out lane, I leaned in to the nostalgia where I saw the baby faces of my four children--their beaming smiles as well as their looks of terror and disappointment. I could hear their shrieks of laughter and their blood curdling cries. I remembered my feelings of joy, agony, exhaustion, uncertainly, and fear that consumed me as a young mom trying to figure out what I was doing. And I remember yearning for the days when I would no longer need anything from the baby isle.
“Beep,” the self-checkout scanner hit the barcode on the bottom of the baby powder cuing me back to the present. My daughter placed the powder in the white plastic bag and started toward the exit.
“Jo, hold up,” I said as I quickly caught up to her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’ve grown up so fast, girl,” I said in earnest. “I love you so much.”
As I prepared for her to immediately shake me off, per usual, instead I felt her body sinking into my hug. “I love you too, mom,” she said softly. “And thanks for taking me to get the baby powder,” she added.
Scurrying through the Minnesota cold toward our car, I felt grateful that our slime mission led me back to the baby isle and for all the memories that I found there. I realized that just like slime, the passage of time often slips through our hands when we are not looking. And without notice, we open our eyes and find ourselves in the next isle at Target.
Driving home, I take in that my youngest child is on the cusp of becoming a teenager but in this moment, she thinks of nothing other than how much baby powder she will add to her slime mixture.
And I am grateful.
Grateful for all of the memories of my children's baby years, and grateful for the fact that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here right now.
Slime and all.
Yes, I am feeling it. The intensity of the holiday season is in the air and it is nearly impossible to escape the droplets of frenetic energy that invisibly dissolve into our pores this time of year.
For me, I notice that my thinking gets more scattered, I have a hard time writing, and a slight heaviness sets in as early darkness shortens our days, and it is so damn cold outside.
But the blessings…oh the blessings. So many of them. It is the deep gratitude I feel for these blessings that help me embrace the intense beauty and fragility of life and the increasing awareness of the passage of time. This week, I enter a new decade of life...
Truth: I feel really uncomfortable asking for your social media support because I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it myself. I go from feeling like it is the most incredible thing in the world and wonder how I ever lived without it, to being quite certain that it is the biggest, most obscene popularity contest that ever existed.
I just finished reading your book The Self-Care Solution generously given to me by your mother-in-law.
You shared with the world the challenges you experienced not just as a mom but as a person trying to be the best you can be in an imperfect world.
Your suggestions for “self care” are reminders of how we can all be better advocates for ourselves and those we love.
To be a mom is to continually manage the fierce mama bear feelings that make us want to sprint to our child’s rescue, kiss away their tears, and band-aid away their pain. How do we know when to act on this instinct? And when to push our internal pause button in order to and give them the space they need to pick themselves back up when they fall and as they get older, lean into other support systems they’ve developed.
We don’t always know. But our hearts will guide us if we really listen.
“It must be so amaaaazing having all four of your kids under one roof again,” is the question of the month since my oldest son arrived home from his freshman year in college, and oldest daughter breezed in from her five-month college junior “study” (or is it "touring"?) abroad program.
“Oh yesssss,” I concur. “It is just the BEST!”
And I am telling the truth. Mostly.
It goes without saying that I love my family unit. I love the feeling of completeness I feel when the six of us are together. Seeing my four kids interact with one another can be downright heart-melting (and yes, the teasing can be mortifying). But I love how the six of us fit together—each family member with his or her own distinct personality set within the building blocks of our ever-evolving family unit.
While I try to bask in the euphoria of family wholeness, it is only a matter of time before the challenges I encountered while mothering all four kids in my home for ten years inevitably find a way to bubble to the surface again, and I can see very clearly that there is indeed a time when adult children need to fly the coop.
Not only are there more dishes in the sink, crumbs on the kitchen counter, clothes in the washer and dryer, wet towels on bedroom floors, shoes sprawled all over the mudroom, various items of clothing and shoes missing from my closet (usually my favorite ones that I was planning to wear as I realize they have "disappeared"), cars rolling in and out of our driveway at any given hour, teenagers and 20-somethings eating every morsel of available food in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, texts sent to me at any time of the day or night including the hours between midnight and 5 a.m.) begrudgingly alerting me of my college kids’ whereabouts (“Mom, you don’t know where I am when I am at college! Why do you need me to tell you now? Don’t you trust me?”) Oh, and did I mention the arguing and the YELLING? Well, there is much more of those too!
So, in the flurry trying to manage my family of six, my writing and teaching work, and launching a new book, I am reminded of what prompted me to write The Self-Care Solution in the first place.
Self-care is so damn hard!
Part of my self-care journey over the past few years was to let go of my two older kids in a healthy way, which was far from easy for me, and to reestablish my life with the younger two at home. It took a lot of time, soul searching, and hard work for me to do this. But by using the physical, emotional, and relational self-care tools outlined in the book, I stayed true to myself, set appropriate boundaries, and advocated for my need to work and create, I did it. And lo and behold, I was finally able to accomplish what I had set out to do decades earlier—finish my book on self-care and continue to practice what I preach.
But what I have realized over these past several hectic weeks is that our self-care work as moms is never done, and we will be challenged over and over again to hang onto our sense of self while mothering our children.
Having all four kids home triggered some old stuff for me. Negative patterns of thinking and acting popped up. I found myself worrying about and micro-managing my kids far more than necessary—trying in vain to find some control amidst the inevitable chaos and discomfort of this transitional time. I have found myself frustrated that I am not writing enough, or practicing yoga or meditating the way I need to be.
And then I remember. These are my continual self-care work-ons, and it is indeed a marathon not a sprint. I remind myself we all have our own work-ons and triggers that threaten to throw us moms off center. But there are three things that remain constant for all of us:
1. Someone will always need us.
2. No one is going to hand over the time and space
we need to take care of ourselves.
3. We need to be intentional about caring for ourselves
or we are not able to take care of our family the way we want to.
So, in trying to embrace this short period of time when all my kids are back in the nest (my oldest leaves for an out-of-state internship on Friday), instead of thinking about all the ways I am "failing" at self-care, I realized that I am forgetting one huge component of self-care—self-compassion.
My self-care may look and feel a little different right now, and that is okay. I need to embrace what is good—the wonderful walk I took with my cousin Joy this Memorial weekend; dancing during the fun (albeit excruciating) Kayla work-outs that my oldest daughter led me through; watching my two daughters, 10 years apart, giggle like best friends; the warm hugs I receive regulary from both of my sons, and the gratitude I felt in spending time with my husband, friends, and family over the long weekend.
Sometimes self-care can be simply a matter of reframing. Letting go of what we think self-care “should” be, releasing ourselves from expectations and the frustrations of what is not, and opening ourselves up to the joy and the beauty of what is.
During this busy time of transitioning from spring to summer, when school is ending, graduations are occurring, college kids are coming home, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball are in full swing, and the to-do lists threaten to overpower us every day, can you carve out five minutes a day, even in your car, to find compassion for yourself, to say something nice to yourself, to tell yourself you are doing the best you can, and that you are indeed good enough? Can you breathe deeply, taking it all in, and then letting it all go?
Yes you can.
This is the real work of self-care.
March 7th, 2016, 1:23 p.m. Minnetonka, MN — I typed the following word and emailed it to my publisher:
The Self-Care Solution is now officially off to the printer for its first official print-run.
This “print run” will print the books that will travel to bookstores all over the country and hopefully to your mailbox (if you pre-ordered the book already, thank you, or plan to purchase copy online or at one of my upcoming events, thank you).
After hearing the swoosh of the sent email, which marked the release of this book out from under my careful control, I took a deep breath, and exhaled a mixture of liberation, jubilation, and something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Tears flowed freely as I emailed my mom and David, who had coached me to the finish line, “Push send, Julie. You can do this.” And I alerted my publicist and friend Wendy with the following email:
“I feel like I want to do back flips and throw up at the same time.”
Her response quickly turned my tears to laughter and relief, “Now that would be a good trick. All is good.”
As I sat at my writing desk where I had spent countless hours pounding at my keyboard, begging my brain to conjure up the necessary words to articulate my thoughts, I settled into this transitional moment. The vivid memories of what it took for me to get to this point—the insane (sometimes almost literally) amounts of intention, discipline, devotion, trust, frustration, courage, vulnerability, and dedication. And while I wanted to allow myself to feel victorious (the back flip part), I felt a nagging pull that wrestled with my feelings of joy, “don’t get yourself too excited lady, you have no idea what’s around the corner” (the throwing up part).
When I was immersed in the process of writing, re-writing, editing, and re-editing, the book was under my care and my control. No one could judge it or judge me. Like a baby, I nurtured, coddled, protected, and guarded my book. Only a trusted few read it. But like raising a child, the time had come to let it go. And over these past few weeks (during which time my son developed influenza and a stomach ulcer and spent four days in the ICU, and another week at home…he is fine, thank g-d, but it was definitely a trying time for him; for all of us) this pivotal moment came closer and closer... and March 7th was the day that I needed to release this fifth child of sorts out from under my wing.
Yes, I felt confident that the book was ready to stand on its own in the world without me hovering over it; not unlike the time when I knew my two older kids were ready to head off to college on their own. In releasing my college-bound kids, I knew there would be bumps and bruises along the way (for them and for me). And in releasing this book, I also knew that there would be highs and lows; good reviews and not so good ones (of my book and of me).
But even with this confidence and awareness, it took only a quick glance over my shoulder to find my trusted frienemy named “fear” hanging out, eager to have a conversation with me. “Really?? Are you sure you are ready? Because, guess what? It's rough out there and you might not be as ready as you think you are!” (Read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic for more on the role of fear in the creative process.)
“Well,” I told my frienemy,“ready or not, the cord has been cut and this book is making its way out into the world! So please step aside for now.”
And yes, I hit send. And yes, I am hard at work scheduling book publicity, launch events, readings, conferences, and self-care workshops. But my frienemy is still hanging out nearby, willing and able to cozy up to me whenever I give it a chance. I can completely relate to Louisa Treger, author of The Lodger, as she explains the difficulties she encountered when her book was released:
“I felt incredibly exposed, as though I’d taken my clothes off in front of the world. It is perhaps the central paradox of being an author that you must have a thin skin in order to write well, yet the hide of a rhinoceros to put yourself out there. I am still working on the rhinoceros part!”
So, my dear friends and readers, please know that this thin-skinned author is continually working to strengthen her hide… especially between now and the May 3rd release! And quite frankly, I would love your support! You can like my new Facebook author page, subscribe to my blog (click link below), or connect with me on Twitter. You can recommend my book to your friends and relatives. And my Minnesota peeps, I would be thrilled to see you at any of my book events, which will be listed on this site soon (and most of them will include wine!).
And if and when you do decide to take in this beloved fifth child of mine, I truly hope you will make room for its messages in your life. I hope that by practicing your self-care, you will infuse your life with more happiness, health, and meaning so that you can share this energy with those you love!
“The only way that a mother can truly be present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with her child is if she is present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with herself. And the only way she can be connected with herself is if she does what she needs to do to care for herself in an honest and meaningful manner. This is the true essence of self-care for mothers.” --The Self-Care Solution
Thank you all for your support and encouragement along the way! You have helped bring The Self-Care Solution to life! G-d speed!
As I celebrated turning 49 a few weeks ago and my 2016 resolutions are set and in motion (1: better time management and 2: better cooking), I found it interesting to look at my last year’s birthday post, and reflect on the changes that have occurred. Many of the milestones I talked about in future terms like leaving my oldest son in California for his college freshman year; my oldest daughter turning 21, my husband turning 50, my youngest daughter starting middle school; and attending my 30-year high school reunion, all happened. And I “wrote” a piece about each one—all of the details, how I felt, and what I learned. Some of these made it into my journals, some onto my blog, but most remained in the form of swirling sentences in my head, either because I needed to push those sentences aside to keep my focus on finalizing The Self-Care Solution, or because publishing those stories would infringe on my children’s privacy. But each one of them caused me to pause, reflect, appreciate, and ponder, usually only for brief moments—on my yoga mat, on a walk, or in a conversation with a friend. Because life moves forward, even when we want it to slow down just a bit so we can savor certain moments a little longer. Two notable 2015 moments when I did slow down to reflect and ponder turned into pivotal milestones for me personally and professionally. Lunch with a friend evolved into revealing the details of my teenage battle with an eating disorder on Jordana Green’s radio show, which gave me a small dose of what it feels like to be extremely vulnerable (terrifying) in an effort to try to help others (highly rewarding). These mixed feeling are ones that I will be continually grappling with in 2016 with the release of my book, and so I was grateful to Jordana for her encouragement, and for allowing me to share my story. And I am also grateful for so many amazing people in my life (you--friends, family, blog readers) who were so incredibly positive and supportive of me doing so. Thank you!
Another 2015 lunchtime casual conversation turned game-changer was with my dear friend Nina Badzin. The development and formulation of The Twin Cities Writing Studio has been true highlight. We have been blown away by the incredible women who have gathered around the table with us to write, learn, reflect, support, and inspire one another. It is truly an honor to be doing this work, and Nina and I are excited to introduce some new programs for 2016 that will engage more Twin Citians who want to put pen to paper—aka “writers”—(stay tuned). Thrilled to be starting our winter session this week!
The central 2015 milestone, of course, has been the completion The Self-Care Solution. And while achieving this life-long dream of writing a book feels incredible, what has surprised me the most is the deep sense of responsibility I feel to continue this ever-so-important discussion on motherhood and self-care. In other words, this book is only the beginning! It is essential to me that I help as many mothers as possible understand that self-care is your life-saving and life-enhancing apparatus as you ride the inevitable, unpredictable, beautiful, and agonizing waves of motherhood.
“The only way that a mother can truly be present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with her child is if she is present, engaged, connected, and nurturing with herself. And the only way she can be connected with herself is if she does what she needs to do to care for herself in an honest and meaningful manner. This is the true essence of self-care for mothers.” –The Self-Care Solution
There is a certain irony that the year that book is released is the year that that I (g-d-willing) hit a half century. Life chapters are concluding and new ones are being written, and the pages keep turning. And sometimes I am deeply afraid—afraid of getting older, afraid of losing...youth, loved ones, time on this earth (more on my feelings about aging in another post...). But there is much to look forward to, including moving into a completely unknown territory with the release of my book. I will move from talking about writing and releasing the book to actually having people read it and formulate opinions about it. And this scares me too. But in the words of Brene' Brown, "Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time." So, I will dare greatly, commit to staring down my fears, and allow myself to feel excited about what is in store for this monumental year.
A few of the 2016 highlights that are already in motion are: unscriptedmom.com soon will become juliebburton.com; several fun book launch events will happen in the spring (more details to follow and I hope you will come!), and believe it or not, I have already started outlining my next book (gulp).
So yes, rounding the bend from 2015 to 2016 feels like a big turn.
But I continue to draw from my past experiences, and other life changes, challenges, and turning points that I've pushed through and grown from (like hiking the 13,000 feet to reach the top of Pikes Peak in 2009). I continue to find gratitude in all the twists and turns that life has to offer, and to remind myself of Ben Franklin’s simple yet profound message about embracing transitions: "When you're finished changing, you're finished.”
So, here we are 2016—bring on the changes!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016 filled with lots of self-care and exciting changes! I am grateful to be on this journey with you!
(Ready to make 2016 a year of taking good care of yourself physically, emotionally and relationally? Start by pre-ordering The Self-Care Solution--A Modern Mother's Essential Guide to Health and Well-Being!)
Two decades, three separate attempts, 10 zillion “I can’t”s, five zillion, “I/you never will” (a few of those coming from my beloved, well-intentioned children), and many of them coming from the naysayer, the self-doubter, the disbeliever who hangs out in my mind. The one who nearly every single time I sit down to write pulls up a chair next to me and asks me cynically, “who are you to…?” and “who really cares about what you have to say?” (Quick interruption: I hope that you do! And if you do, I want to let you know that pre-orders from Amazon often determine the fate of a book’s sales. You can pre-order The Self-Care Solution—A Modern Mother’s Essential Guide to Health and Well-Being today)!
“Well…umm…I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a deep thinker, a reader, a questioner, a truth seeker, and a writer…and I had to write this book. I have a story to tell. A message to deliver—a message of hope and inspiration to other moms,” I would respond, some days more confidently than others.
I could not, would not let that big bad voice win.
Because this time was different. This time I implemented all of the necessary self-care tactics needed to take me to the finish line. I sat alone in my office for thousands of hours, sometimes feeling lonely, sad, anxious, and thinking of all that I was missing on the outside, wondering if it was all worth it, especially when my writing was stale and the big bad voice would not shut up. There were days when I ignored friends, family members, the laundry, the grocery store, and sometimes even my children and husband because I needed that kind of focus—the block-everything-else-out kind of focus. I dug deep, practiced yoga, meditated, saw a therapist, was painfully honest with myself, faced my demons and my insecurities, and reminded myself of my gifts and strengths. I listened to voices of hundreds of other mothers who were willing to share their truths with me, and pored through hundreds of pages of research on physical, mental, emotional, and relational self-care.
And most importantly, after nearly five years of this behind the scenes work, I filtered through all the information, insights and advice I gathered from other moms, various experts, research, and my own personal experiences, and documented the most essential elements of self-care for moms in The Self-Care Solution.
“Aren’t you scared,” the voice would ask me. “Terrified,” I say, my voice shaking. “I reveal myself in ways that I never have. I feel uncomfortably exposed. I am petrified of being judged.”
The voice still doesn’t understand, “If it feels so scary, then why are you doing it? You don’t have to, you know.”
“Oh, but I do,” I say.
"Because it’s time. To trust. To believe. To let go. To release the thoughts, the feelings, and the words, and let them soar.
This is my self-care."
And it is my deepest hope that through your reading of The Self-Care Solution, you will find yours.
Go ahead and preorder your copy (and a few extras to give to your favorite mom friends and family members) from Amazon today! They will arrive in time for Mother’s Day 2016!
Is it normalthat when I say goodbye, a huge chunk of myself leaves with you?
Is it normal that I'm happy, thrilled, relieved, excited, depressed, sad, confused, conflicted, all at the same time?
Is it normal to both overidentify and actively, consciously, choose to separate my emotions from yours so that I can get through my day? ….
Is it normal to feel that our house is so quiet despite having multiple kids still living at home?”
-Excerpt from Ruchi Koval’s “To My Grown-up Kids”
As the leaves begin to change and the cooler air sets in, I become keenly aware of the many transitions in my own life. I am still working to find my new normal. Adjusting to the very different vibe that exists in our house since sending off our college freshman and college junior to their respective colleges in late August. Quite frankly, the vibe is a bit calmer, less intense, and less chaotic. My husband and I are embracing this time to focus more energy and attention on our two younger children, on each other, and on ourselves when we can.
As wonderful as many aspects of this transition have been, there are some days when the energy shift in my house feels completely counterintuitive and deeply painful.
I find myself staring at the black car parked in our driveway. I can still hear the inappropriate music that blasted from within as my older kids zipped in and out at every hour of the day and night. I can see my younger kids hopping in the back seat, their heavy backpacks in tow, thrilled to be riding to school with their big brother or sister.
Now I drive my younger kids to school in my car, and play appropriate music at an acceptable volume (to me). The black car remains empty, stagnant in its spot in the driveway. It has done its job, served its purpose. It’s no longer an essential, integral part of my older kids’ daily lives. It is needed less and less frequently.
I feel a kinship with the black car.
Even though the black car (and I) are are less of a focal point for my older kids, this is what I truly hoped for them—to be in the driver's seat of their own lives (and eventually of their own car that they buy with their own money). However, for now I know that my older kids are grateful that their trusted, loyal black car (and me) are there for them when they need it, and that they will be thrilled to see it (and me) when they get home.
I feel the chilliness of this transition when I enter either of the two unoccupied bedrooms in our house. Scanning my older kids’ rooms, I take in the remnants of their lives that they left behind, and I am overcome with a sense of happiness, gratitude, longing, and loss. Happiness and gratitude for the wonderful memories I have of mothering them in my home; the longing to resurrect some of those memories and to linger more in the time spent with them; and the loss of being physically connected to the daily rhythm of their lives.
Coming to terms with the inevitable physical and emotional separation that occurs when kids leave home has been an uncomfortable and challenging process for me, as it is for almost every mom who I have talked to who has sent kids off to college. Typically, the college kids propel us through this process whether we are ready or not because during the limited number of phone minutes college kids allow for, they will only answer a few of our questions before they ever-so-politely interrupt with, “Gotta go, mom! Off to dinner with friends!”
And they’re gone. And we are left with seven other questions that we really wanted to ask, in addition to a few follow-up questions on the questions they did answer. Most often we are left to try to piece together a picture of their life away from home, and pray that the full picture, which we are no longer have a full grasp of, is happy, productive, and fulfilling for them.
Learning how to accept the unknowns and the ambiguity that comes with with parenting adult children from afar, coupled with the uncertainty of how we fit into their present and future lives is an ongoing process that requires patience and trial and error. But for me, probably the most important and challenging aspect of this transition is trusting that the unfaltering, unconditional love I feel for my older children will stay with them always, helping them to feel secure and grounded, and that our connection, no matter how many miles between us or how many of my questions go unanswered, will remain solid and strong.
Trusting this bond is essential, as it allows me the freedom to let go a little more, exhale more fully, and open up more space in my heart and mind to embrace the present moment, my two younger children, my husband, and the beautiful life that is right in front of me.
This is my new normal. And it feels okay.
Since late February when I had the honor of being a guest on Jordana Green’s radio show to tell my story as part of National Eating Disorders Week, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. The spring months have always been tricky for me, especially in the last several years. And while this spring has been filled with all sorts of wonderful transitions, they are transitions nonetheless; and change is not my strong suit. There are my internal changes that include, but are not limited to, a certain chemical combustion occurring within my body that cranks up my temperature to a mere 90,000 degrees (especially at 3 a.m.) and turns the thoughts in my brain onto a high-speed, continuous spin cycle, for which I cannot seem to find the "off" switch. And there are the external changes that include, but are not limited to surviving yet another senior spring break trip (can I be grandmothered out of the next two?), my oldest son deciding to head to across the country to California for college, my baby turning 11 (just days after a shower door fell on her and broke her wrist...I know, alert the authorities), my husband turning 50 (and yes, of course he recently joined a band), and my oldest daughter finishing her sophomore year of college and returning home for the summer.
So while the internal changes make it a little more challenging to roll with and enjoy all of the exciting external changes, I am doing my best (thank goodness for yoga). And although I am not blogging as regularly as I would like to be, I am still writing. A lot. Submitting 5,000 words a week to my amazing editor at She Writes Press so that my book on self-care for moms can head to the publisher and then finally into moms' hands.
And there are few other fun items to report: At the end of April, I had an incredible experience of being among dozens of Minnesota writers, comedians and musicians who performed at Rebecca Bell Sorensen and Laurie Lindeen’s Morningside After Dark Series.
The spring theme was “Melt With You” and the piece I read, “The Season of Melting and Letting Go” is published in The Mid (with a slightly different title) is about how the spring season parallels my process of letting my son, a high school senior, go. Lastly, I was hired to write a Mother’s Day article for AskMen.Com about how men can win the approval of their wife's or girlfriend’s mother. While I initially found it exciting to have a 20-something male editor email me and say that he thinks I would be a good person to write this and ask if I would be interested, when I began to write the piece, I felt something different…I felt old. But it also opened up my mind to how exciting the next phase of motherhood will (hopefully) be. Welcoming significant others and eventual spouses into the family —Even more “kids” to love!
But for now, and for the next several weeks of "May Madness," I will try to remember to breathe amidst the flurry of finals, baseball and soccer games, grad parties and another school year coming to a close. And on June 4th, when my oldest son walks down the aisle to accept his high school diploma, I will be cheering him on (most likely through tears) as he transitions from the first chapter of his life to his next. And I look forward to seeing what this next chapter brings...
"In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you." -Buddah
Although I already have been through senior year with one child, who is in her sophomore year in college, I think a bit of amnesia must have occurred (sort of like having a baby) as I find myself with child #2, a high school senior, almost surprised by the high levels of stress and the ongoing flurry of emotions that accompany the year that marks the end of a very important life chapter. Now that I am almost half way through my oldest son's final year of high school, I have had a few epiphanies and have concluded that the challenges of your child’s senior year are two-fold. Firstly, once your child finishes their insanely stressful junior year, many of them do a premature victory dance and declare either in their head or out loud that they are DONE. They go through their summer psyched about their last year of high school and can’t wait to slide their way through senior year. But here is the catch, unless they have scored a perfect 36 on their ACT, visited or extensively researched all of the colleges they are interested in applying to, and finished all of their college applications, they are far from done.
First semester senior year is by far one of the most demanding times for students, and because we live in "helicopter" times, it feels very stressful for parents as well. College applications are due, which means the kids actually have to make real decisions about where they are going to apply (which is no small task for many). And once the list is made, many kids (and parents) are completely flabbergasted by the amount of work involved in the application process and in writing the essays required for various schools.
Another biggie is the standardized test issue. Many students, both of my older children included, do not get the score they need/want until the fall of their senior year. So, for my son, his first semester senior year consisted of staying on top of his challenging course load (reminder: almost all colleges want to see a student’s first semester grades), playing a fall sport, trying to figure out where he wanted to go to college, where he could get into, filling out college applications, visiting and researching colleges, dealing with the baseball recruiting process (which is a story in and of itself), and studying for the ACTs. It was grueling, and he truly did not know what hit him. He was blindsided, despite my attempted warnings, by the heaviness he felt in trying to manage all of it.
And the second piece of the fold that also takes students and parents by surprise (yes, even the second time around), is the roller coaster of emotions that arise over the course of senior year. For starters, there are college application/acceptance/rejection discussions happening everywhere you turn for students and parents alike. There is the elation for those kids who get accepted early decision or early action and for the athletes who sign their letters of intent to play their sport in college. But a few lockers down, there are kids dealing with the sadness and disappointment of receiving news that their dreams of attending and/or playing a sport for a certain college will not be realized. It is a difficult time for the kids to navigate the waters of being happy for themselves and each other when good news comes in, and also being sensitive and supportive to those who must alter their dreams. And then there are the many students who do not apply early, or do, but get deferred from one or more colleges, and live in the land of “I don’t know where I am going next year, and please don't ask me again” for most of their senior year, which can be a very uncomfortable place to live for both students and parents.
And the last piece that often takes kids and parents by surprise is the mixed bag of emotions that accompany this year of “lasts,” some of which my daughter beautifully described in her letter to her younger brother, (which I also hope to address in another post). There is no way for our kids to prepare themselves for the feelings that arise when looking at the reality of leaving the only life they know—their family, friends, school, house, room. And a lot of times, they can’t even find the words to talk about it. It’s just too big and too scary. And for the parent, gulp, it feels like a lump in your throat, a dull ache, a peeling off a bandaide ever so slowly. It’s anticipation mixed with slight panic, signaling the need to make some significant internal adjustments before the inevitable gutting of the heart ceremony that takes place when you stand in front of their dorm room and give them that final “I’m setting you free” hug.
So, as easy and natural as it is to be swept away by the strong tide of the senior year stressors, try to remember to allow the tide to bring you back in. Right now I can see clearly through the waves that my son is getting ready. Ready to move on. And I am getting ready to let him go while savoring the lasts. And when I feel my heart twisting into sadness and bracing itself for the sting of the separation, I try to remind myself that senior year is not so much as an end but a transition to a new and exciting beginning.
There is a new trend in the blogging world. Blog posts and even books that mark moments or periods of time like, “This is Childhood,” “This is Adolescence,” and “This is (My) 39.” They make time stand still by describing the real, raw aspects of the designated age or stage. As I inch closer to 50, I find myself stepping back and looking at my life, potentially about half-way over, or half way lived, or have way begun, depending on your vantage point. I have grappled with my feelings about getting older and realize that while I get ready to add a 48th candle to my birthday cake, I feel the need to do what all writers do: analyze and reflect. Forty-eight means something different to everyone, but this is what 48 is to me: It is NOSTALGIA. The nostalgia of the days when I could pick up my son, now a man/child, and hold him in my arms and tell him that I can make it all better; the days when all four of my children lived in my house with me. It is the nostalgia of my childhood memories, before husband, before children—the prehistoric days when all of the neighborhood kids played kick the can until dark and my parents didn’t know where I was; when phones were attached to walls, and there were no ipods, ipads, internet, social media, or botox; and there were vinyl records, 8-track and cassette tapes, the Grateful Dead, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, and Starsky and Hutch, and my sister and me fighting for the best TV viewing spot on our green couch.
It is COVER-UP. Watching women around me tighten, plump, nip and tuck and wondering if I should too. It is spending too many dollars on “age-defying” products that are marketed to ME because I am the age that society wants to defy. It is knowing that in trying to cover up the wrinkles and the sagging, I am desperately trying to hang onto something that is slipping away, and no matter how much healthy food, water and vitamins I ingest, how much exercise I do, what clothes I wear or how I color and style my hair, the “something” that is inevitably leaving me is called—YOUTH! And there is no stopping its exit.
It is SEARCHING. Searching for the meaning of life. For the meaning of my life. Searching for my roots, for spirituality, for Judaism. It is studying with an Orthodox rabbi and joining a Reform synagogue. It is grappling with my identity, as a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a Jew, a writer, a reader, a yogi, a volunteer, a teacher and a student.
It is DISORIENTING. With four kids at very different life stages: college, high school, junior high and grade school. Disorienting with the reality that I on a given day, I can be managing a play date for one daughter and listening to details about a sorority date party from the other. Disorienting to have just celebrated one son's Bar Mitzvah and to soon be celebrating my other son's high school graduation. Disorienting to think that my oldest daughter will graduate college within a month of my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and that I could potentially be a grandma at my youngest child’s high school graduation. Disorienting to be planning for my 30-year high school reunion when I can so easily access vivid details (many of them embarrassing) of those powerful high school years, as if they happened yesterday.
It is UNCERTAINTY. Uncertainty about whether I made the right choice to leave my career and stay home with my kids (I am pretty sure I did). Uncertainty about whether I should go back to work. Uncertainty about who would even hire me now. Uncertainty about decisions, big and small, that I made and make for my kids and myself every day. Uncertainty about why bad things happen to good people, why I have lost friends and family members too soon. Uncertainty about the future; about being empty nester; about getting old, as in really old; uncertainty about death and how I will go down—will my mind go first or will my body fail me, or will I die in a plane crash (um, yes, one of my biggest fears in life...)?
It is PERIMENOPAUSE. It is crazy! It is crying and swearing and not remembering why I walked into the living room or where I was driving to, or why I was even mad at my husband this morning. It is exhausted…for no good reason. It is worry and obsessing, and worrying and obsessing some more. It is Prozac and Lexapro and the allure of taking the “happy pill” to calm the crazies, but opting instead for a weekly writing group, meditation, yoga and an available-when-needed therapist.
It is WORK. My work: writing, teaching yoga, and serving the community, which makes very little money but keeps me somewhat sane. My husband’s work that he does too much of to be able to support all of the kids and me so I that I can make sure that everyone in the family has clean underwear, decent meals, and some structure and fun in their lives, which happens most of the time, but definitely not all of the time.
It is LETTING GO. Letting go of what I think I should have been—an author of six successful books, a renowned public relations guru (my occupation before kids), a psychologist (my "I should have been/wish I would have been" career), and trying, trying, trying to accept who I am. It is letting my kids go, off to junior high, high school, off to drive a car, off to college. Letting go of the idea that I can control the outcome of their lives, and maybe even the outcome of my own life.
It is TRANSITION. Transition from being not yet old but not young either; from being a young parent with my oldest child to an older parent with my youngest. Transition of caring for aging parents. Transition of my own aging process, which blurs my thinking, my vision and my hearing, and yet, has prompted me to become more patient, more intentional, more compassionate and more present, with myself and with others. Transition of walking mindfully through my life, instead of running through or from it.
It is GRATITUDE. Gratitude for my blessed life and the amazing people in it. Gratitude that I stuck it out and continue to stick it out with my husband, in spite of many extremely trying times. Gratitude for my health, and for the health of those I love and care about. Gratitude that after years of sleepless nights, changing diapers, taming tantrums, tween angst and teenage drama, and the pain, panic and exhilaration of sending one off to college, I can now offer my voice of experience for newer moms.
It is ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance of childhood scars, anxiety, depression, addiction, fear and loneliness; being able to stare down my demons and tell them to go to hell, and accepting that sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t; and looking honestly at dysfunction—mine, my family’s, and my friends’, and finding compassion in all of it. Acceptance of my imperfect self that struggles with time management, organization and taking direction from others, but is driven and caring, and loves to give, and loves to love. Acceptance of dreams fulfilled, unfulfilled, and dreams that remain. Acceptance that life is really, really amazing and fun, and really, really hard and painful.
It is FREEDOM. Freedom to invest more energy in people, work and causes that ground, comfort and inspire me. Freedom to exit relationships that drain me. Freedom to be me, to practice self-care and self-compassion, to trust myself and others, to confidently use my voice, written and spoken, to tell my truth, to be vulnerable, and to encourage others to do the same.
It is THE MOMENT. Slowing down enough to understand that it is this moment that really matters, and believing that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be right now. It is taking time on my yoga mat or in meditation to quiet down the mind chatter and focus on the power of now. It is watching my kids, truly watching them, and listening to them, and seeing them for who they really are, with their struggles, with their attitudes, and with their independent, creative minds and their loving hearts. It is no longer rushing to get to the next phase of their lives or mine, but wanting time to stand still. Really. Just to be able to press pause. For a moment. So I can take it all in and cherish it.
It is LOVE. Love for my husband of 23 years, love for each one of my very unique, and very lovable kids, who have taught me more about life and love in the past 20 years of being a mother than I ever imagined possible. Love for my parents and mother-in-law who have shown me what it means to age gracefully, and that love, giving and receiving, is the most important thing in this life; and for my extended family and friends, both old and new, who continue to enrich my life each day, as each day becomes more and more precious.
It is knowing that every single day is a gift.
This is my 48.
Tis the season, for me anyway. I find fall to be, by far, the most transformative season: back to school, bracing for the MN winter, celebrating the high holidays, loaded with symbols of starting anew, letting go, forgiving, and looking forward. This fall feels even bigger. It feels huge. It feels loaded with stuff to be grateful for, to celebrate, stuff that involves new beginnings and exciting transitions in my kids’ lives and my life. But when I wake up with a racing heart and mind, and I start and stop writing multiple blog posts because none of them make sense, and I find myself scanning the Target parking lot for my car that I have zero recollection of parking, let alone driving there, I know that I am not embracing this transformative time, but racing through it. I am anywhere but here. Just ask my mom. She will tell you how I forgot that she was coming to pick up my daughter at school last week during conferences so she ended up wandering the halls of the school looking for my daughter for 45 minutes before running into my son, who directed her to my daughter. But I didn’t have a clue this was happening because, during that time, I was darting from classroom to classroom, like a harried teenager, hearing the voices of my kids’ teachers saying lovely things about my children, and I was feel’n pretty good and I may have had a moment of, “Okay, great, I must be doing something right.” Until, of course, I walked out of the math teacher’s room and spotted my mom, her eyes looking slightly puzzled and slightly pissed. “Nope. Never mind. I am not doing much of anything right.”
I am in the moment and a million miles away. Preparing for A’s Bar Mitzvah in three weeks and helping J with his college applications, due in three weeks; gearing up for my first ever self-care workshop that I am co-leading in two weeks and preparing yet another (please let this be the last), revision of my book outline that is, just guess, due to a publisher in 10 days. I am coming off of the high holidays, during which we attended not one, not two but three synagogues—a reformed, a conservative and an orthodox (I will save those details for another blog post); and S came home from college for Yom Kippur, which somewhat resembled a wonderful, exciting, but sometimes jolting, electric storm lighting up our house.
I’m in the moment and into panic in a matter of seconds. I question whether I will be able to pull off these next three weeks, manage the check list, and get it all done: the Bar Mitzvah details, all 20 zillion of them (thankfully divided between my sister and me, but I still don’t know what I am wearing); the writing, for which I require big blocks of time when my mind is calm and clear; providing college application assistance, yet another intended blog post topic, and for which I need more time and more patience, AND my son’s time and patience (which doesn’t all line up very often); the workshop preparation, which I need to tap into my experience of writing about researching and practicing self-care, while I am stretched to practice what I preach right now.
So I breathe my way back to the moment. And tell myself that yes, this will all happen. I will get through it. But I don’t want to just get through it! I want to feel it all, embrace the joy in each one of these milestones. So I drag myself to yoga, ground down, and set an intention to be present. And that works beautifully until that evening when I see my husband packing his suitcase for a three-day work trip. He sees my eyes widen, and then narrow. I expect him to say something calming, reassuring. But instead, he quickly reminds me that he will be traveling for two or three days of each of the next three weeks. Oh yeah, I had forgotten. My heart rate escalates and my mind kicks into high gear and spirals me into piling my entire to-do list into an already overcrowded area of my brain: Shit! The laundry, the dishes, the cooking, the no milk in the fridge and I think we only have one more roll of toilet paper in this house, and the engine light is on in my car, and there are unopened bills hanging out on the kitchen counter, and Jo has a soccer tournament in Rochester and three birthday parties this weekend, and A’s big science project is due, and the details of J’s college visits in two weeks still need to be finalized, and the senior parent ad for the yearbook is due, and my volunteer positions need attention, and there are a growing number of emails and texts that I have yet to read, let alone respond to...So sorry, my friends, I am trying.
And then I will myself to breathe again. And the spiraling stops as I remind myself that amidst all this mundane, almost whiney sounding to-do list, of which some or most will get done (or it won't), there lies the joyful stuff that trumps it all. And I work my way back to gratitude and the present moment. My husband and I laugh about how we may put our 10-year-old on a Greyhound and send her to Rochester for her soccer tournament, and that we may end up writing A’s Bar Mitzvah speech on the way to the synagogue that morning.
I will myself to trust that these next three weeks, with all their splendor and glory, and all of their mundane, will happen. And I will be there/be here. Present. Aware. Engaged. Grateful. I will do this by trying to allow myself to retreat from the lists and the panic, and to move toward lingering in the joy for as long as I can—especially the one that celebrates my baby boy becoming a Jewish adult. Yes, I will most definitely be lingering in that one.